Lightning in the theater: A first look at The Lightning Thief

Lauren Fox, Reporter

The Lightning Thief, a coming-of-age adventure musical, premiers Friday night as the University of North Florida (UNF) Swoop Troupe brings the first book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series to life.

Zachary Coughlin plays the lead as Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old misfit boy with an absent father. The only constant in Percy’s life is his loving mother who is killed in front of him, leading him on a journey to the Underworld to retrieve her. Flanked by his two companions, Annabeth and Grover, Percy discovers a new world where the Greek myths are true and learns why he can never seem to fit in: He is a demigod.

“He constantly feels like he’s never good enough, and then the one constant in his life, which is his mom, is brutally ripped from him,” Coughlin said, describing his character. He explains that Percy is a relatable character because he is a kid who struggles to connect with others and grapples with his identity. “You go through a lot of emotions with Percy.”

Percy Jackson (Zachary Coughlin, center) and his friends Annabeth Chase (Elizabeth Kelley, right) and Grover (Hannah Holley, left).
Percy Jackson (Zachary Coughlin, center) and his friends Annabeth Chase (Elizabeth Kelley, right) and Grover (Hannah Holley, left). (Lauren Fox)

Percy’s friends lift his spirits and have his back along the journey they take together. The trio learns to understand and rely on one another, building their companionship along the way. Besides having his back in battle, Percy’s friends add an element of humor to the show that makes the story engaging.

Since April, Swoop Troupe’s production team has been working to get the musical ready for the stage. With a cast of approximately 30 students and a crew of about 20 more, marketing manager and actress Jade Marino told Spinnaker, “this might be the biggest production yet!”

Students work behind the scenes during a rehearsal for the Lightning Thief show.
Students work behind the scenes during a rehearsal for the Lightning Thief show. (Lauren Fox)

Adorned in a flowing robe as the Oracle — later in a sparkly bodysuit as the ferryman to the Underworld, Charon — Marino plays multiple roles on and off stage. Her strong voice and captivating costumes stand out in the play. Other costume designs for characters, such as Medusa and the Minotaur, help bring the production to life.

An integral part of the musical is its dance scenes which choreographer Devon LeVasseur carefully adapted. “The Broadway cast was seven people, and I have a cast of 25 people,” explained Devon when describing her process of modifying the choreography to accommodate the Swoop Troupe. Since November, Devon has fine-tuned the cast’s dance skills so they look neat on the stage.

On top of the dance choreography, the cast also had to choreograph their fight scenes. In preparation, the cast took Taekwondo lessons to get ready for the onstage battles.

Percy Jackson (Zachary Coughlin) fights Medusa.
Percy Jackson (Zachary Coughlin) fights Medusa. (Lauren Fox)

“We learned a lot of fighting techniques,” said Corinna Temple, who plays Clarisse, daughter of Ares and Percy’s rival. “I’m so unathletic, and I’m playing the most athletic person in the cast,” she laughed. “It’s been really fun because now I can do a really good side-kick.”

The cast and crew members share excitement about bringing a book many of them loved as children to the stage. 

“I loved the books when I was in middle school,” exclaimed Angela Pisano, an ensemble member and production’s graphic designer. “It’s about how difficult the world is but also learning to overcome those challenges as you get older.”

The Lightning Thief premiers Friday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Andrew A. Robinson Theater and is free for UNF students. If you miss its Friday showing, the musical will play twice on Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.


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